Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Saturday, July 01, 2006

A Magnificent Tree: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 31 with poem by John Milton, Paradise Lost

Daily Readings
Psalm 94 I Samuel 1 Ezekiel 31 John 10

Daily Text: Ezekiel 31

A Magnificent Tree
Ezekiel 31 reminds us of the allegory of the ship of Tyre (chapter 27), for here a magificent tree is an allegory for the Pharoah of Egypt. This tree, greater than the trees of Eden, might well have begun its religious life in the mists of the Edenic shore. Eichrodt suggests this it is the great world tree of Babylonian religion known as the Kishkanu tree in Eridu [503:425]. It also has counterparts in the world ash-tree in the Edda of Teutonic origins and again has roots with the Vedas and Upanishads in India and elsewhere [503:425]. Three strophes make up the poem:1-9 Origens, 10-14 Error, and 15-18, Judgment. In the end God says, “This is Pharoah and all his horde” (vs. 18).

A fascinating idea introduced here, is that the trees go down into Sheol as do humans—similar fate. Granted we are dealing with allegory, but in many places in the Psalms the plants and the animals share the scene before God. Perhaps it is simply poetic license, but it is fascinating. Could it be that as other living beings share created life so they will share life in the presence of God, as well?

from Paradise Lost
bk. iv, l. 192
John Milton
So clomb this first grand thief into God’s fold:
So since into his church lewd hirelings climb.
Thence up he flew, and on the tree of life,
The middle tree and highest there that grew,
Sat like a cormorant.

Collect for the Day
O just Judge of all the world, when the dark power of evil threatens your creation, may we, through your strength within us, maintain the sure knowledge of your love and mercy, which we see in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. [476:832:94 Psalm prayer]

Friday, June 30, 2006

Infallibility and Faith: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 29 with poem by Henry David Thoreau, Inspiration

Daily Readings
Psalm 93 Ruth 4 Ezekiel 29 John 9

Daily Text: Ezekiel 29

Infallibility and Faith
Ezekiel 29 describes how the prophecies against Tyre were not fulfilled; in fact, God gives Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar to make up for the plunder he did not find at Tyre! Eichrodt [503:410] points out that infallible these prophecies are not, but Ezekiel appears unconcerned. It is as if he relies only on the LORD and whether the words of the prophecies are fulfilled in their entirety is not his concern. As indeed, it is not. No more is it ours.

Verse 21 is a pointer to tell the prophet that he will have opportunity to tell of God’s success when the prophecy against Egypt is fulfilled. Eichrodt suggests that this is his last prophecy against the nations and he never has the opportunity of announcing God’s victory. I like his pointing to the passage in Hebrew 11:39 indicating that Ezekiel, too, was one who did not live to see the promise, although, he like us, could always live by faith [503:412].

from Inspiration
Henry David Thoreau

If with light head erect I sing,
Though all the Muses lend their force,
From my poor love of anything,
The verse is weak and shallow as its source.

But if with bended neck I grope,
Listening behind me for my wit,
With faith superior to hope,
More anxious to keep back than forward it,--

Making my soul accomplice there
Unto the flame my heart hath lit,
Then will the verse forever wear,--
Time cannot bend the line that God hath writ.

I hearing get, who had but ears,
And sight, who had but eyes before;
I moments live, who lived but years,
And truth discern, who knew but learning’s lore.

Collect for the Day
Blessed are you, Lord God, king of the universe; in awe and wonder we bow before the mystery of your power and might, for you are Lord for ever and ever.
[476:831:93 Psalm prayer]

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Trade, The Signature of Tyrian Life: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 28 with poem by Walter Lyman French, Your Sanctuary

Daily Readings
Psalm 90 Ruth 3 Ezekiel 28 John 7

Daily Text: Ezekiel 28

Trade, the Signature of Tyrian Life
Because the prince of Tyre has claimed divinity for himself, God will bring strangers against him. Will he continue to profess divinity as the foreigners take his mortal life? Evidently, the concept of ‘divine right’ had spread around the Middle East and it was no strange matter for rulers to claim it. On the other hand, God was not sympathetic. The prophet does go on in the lament in Ezekiel 28, strophe two, to place the prince in Edenic surroundings with the acknowledgement that he had every heavenly protection, including the guardian cherub as a colleague or companion on the holy mountain. This is the same cherub who is charged with driving him out beyond the stones of fire—a holy border for the fabled land? What was it that brought him from being blameless to iniquitous? Trade, the signature of Tyrian life. “In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned” [vs. 16]!

The third strophe in this chapter relates to Sidon, a sister city of Tyre. But there is little detail here; it is as if Sidon is of little importance to Judah compared to Tyre. Finally, the chapter concludes with a prose description of the end of exile for the house of Israel, a time when God will gather them from the nations where they have been scattered, and will bring them to safety in their own lands.

Your Sanctuary
Walter Lyman French

I stand serene beside the struggling marts
Of trade, and towering temples built to greed,
Where dazzling gold rates more than human need—
And plumb the bitter depths of hungry hearts.
Where cruel, deadening strife for gain and power
And self have made life cheap and things the goal,
When self has stilled the music of the soul,
I lure you in to sit with God an hour.

I lure you in to lift your sense of worth,
To give you vision, fill your soul with life,
Reveal the Christ-like God who walks the earth
With anguish in His eyes from human strife.
I send you forth, in love, His truth to carry
With joyous hope. I am your Sanctuary.

Collect for the Day
Eternal Father of our mortal race, in Jesus Christ your grace has come upon us. For his sake, prosper the work of our hands until he returns to gladden our hearts forever. [476:828:90 Psalm prayer]

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Song of the Sea: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 27 with poem by Matthew Arnold, The Scholar-Gipsy

Daily Readings
Ecclesiastes 12 Ruth 2 Ezekiel 27 John 6

Daily Text: Ezekiel 27

Song of the Sea
Inserted into the middle of this beautiful poem of lament, this song of the sea, in Ezekiel 27, is a list of trading peoples and their objects of trade. The list itself is illuminating and awe-inspiring for its variety and the beauty of its variety. But the list is not the meat of the chapter. The poem is. The first strophe is a metaphor of Tyre as a beautiful, well-built and well-manned ship of commerce. The second strophe turns suddenly to see the sinking of this great ship in the heart of the seas. It is a common east wind, seen briefly, and graphically in Psalm 48:7; common it may be, but it means the end of this ship. What is not said is that the east wind is Babylonia, for Tyre is a nation, not a ship. What is also not said, is that this is a prophecy concerning Tyre’s fall given by YHWH to Judah’s prophet in exile, Ezekiel, and that Tyre’s downfall is willed by this same YHWH. For the exiles of Judah it is a clear statement that their rejected God is God not only of their people, but of all the peoples of the world. And this God’s discipline knows no borders.

from The Scholar-Gipsy
l. 232
Matthew Arnold

As some grave Tyrian trader, from the sea,
Descried at sunrise an emerging prow
Lifting the cool-hair’d creepers stealthily,
The fringes of a southward-facing brow
Among the Aegean isles;
And saw the merry Grecian coaster come,
Freighted with amber grapes, and Chian wine,
Green bursting figs, and tunnies steep’d in brine;
And knew the intruders on his ancient home,

The young light-hearted Masters of the waves;
And snatch’d his rudder, and shook out more sail,
And day and night held on indignantly
O’er the blue Midland waters with the gale,
Betwixt the Syrtes and soft Sicily,
To where the Atlantic raves
Outside the Western Straits, and unbent sails
There, where down cloudy cliffs, through sheets of foam,
Shy traffickers, the dark Iberians come;
And on the beach undid his corded bales.

Collect for the Day
On this day of gales and storms,
be with all those, Lord, who work at sea,
that they may be skilful and brave
and come home safely in calmer days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Tyrian Demise: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 26 with poem by William Wordsworth, On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic

Daily Readings
Ecclesiastes 11 Ruth 1 Ezekiel 26 John 5

Daily Text: Ezekiel 26

Tyrian Demise
Unlike the nations in the preceding chapter, Ezekiel 26 speaks of Tyre, a city-state with major standing in the civilized world. Known for her Tyrian purple, and her merchant ships that navigate the known seas, Tyre is both a symbol of hope and despair for Jerusalem. Hope because Tyre too wants Babylonia stopped and is working towards that end. Despair, because rather than move to Jerusalem’s aid she celebrates her demise as a competitor. This, in God’s eyes, creates in turn the Tyrian demise. And how far she fell. Her soil built up so carefully over the centuries is to be swept into the sea along with her wealth and her merchandise. Actually, the siege by Nebuchadnezzar, which began soon enough, took 13 years before she fell, according to Josephus [503:378].

On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic
William Wordsworth


Once did She hold the gorgeous east in fee;
And was the safeguard of the west: the worth
Of Venice did not fall below her birth,
Venice, the eldest Child of Liberty.
She was a maiden City, bright and free;
No guile seduced, no force could violate;
And, when she took unto herself a Mate,
She must espouse the everlasting Sea.
And what if she had seen those glories fade,
Those titles vanish, and that strength decay;
Yet shall some tribute of regret be paid
When her long life hath reached its final day:
Men are we, and must grieve when even the Shade
Of that which once was great is passed away.

Collect for the Day
O helper of workers,
ruler of all the good,
guard on the ramparts
and defender of the faithful,
who lift up the lowly
and crush the proud,
ruler of the faithful,
enemy of the impenitent,
judge of all judges,
who punish those who err,
pure life of the living,
light and Father of lights
shining with great light,
denying to none of the hopeful
your strength and help,
I beg that me, a little man
trembling and most wretched,
rowing through the infinite storm of this age,
Christ may draw after him to the lofty
most beautiful haven of life.
[489:84:April 20 Columba, c.521-97]

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Nations: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 25 with poem by Joseph ibn Sahl, The Fleas

Daily Readings
Ecclesiastes 10 Judges 21 Ezekiel 25 John 4

Daily Text: Ezekiel 25

The Nations
Ezekiel 25 opens a ‘book’ of prophecies against the nations that continues through chapter 32. Here there four surrounding nations named: Ammon, Moab, Edom and Philistia. The greatest detail rests with Ammon, Judah’s local partner opposing Nebuchadnezzar. Instead of coming to Judah’s assistance, Ammon has celebrated her demise! This cannot be left unaddressed and God and Ezekiel do so in this address. The remaining three nations are addressed with enough particular details included to give them some standing as having come initially from the hand of the prophet. That they also reflect later additions is not to be quarreled with.

The issue is that YHWH will not let the surrounding nations believe that Judah has no significance simply because their God has disciplined her. Instead, Ezekiel will extend his God’s assertion that Judah’s God is also God of all nations and their destiny is wrapped in his will. By disciplining them he will let them know directly through the prophet and their punishment that the Lord of Judah is likewise the Lord of their land.

The Fleas
Joseph ibn Sahl
died c.1123

And the fleas charge like war-horses;
they swoop down like birds to devour my skin.
They caper around me like he-goats,
and rouse me out of my sleep.
I have become weary of killing
both young and old to rout them;
yet they know no fear.
They are stout-hearted like warriors in battle
who pluck up their courage when their comrades fall.
Though they are a bit lazy during the day,
when night comes they are as nimble as thieves.
Day after day I loathe them,
and my hands are sick of killing them;
but their bites have covered my flesh with sores
that blossom like pomegranates.
O God, wipe them out,
for I am in anguish and cannot sleep—while they exult!

Collect for the Day
I will kindle my fire this morning
In presence of the holy angels of heaven,
In presence of Ariel of the loveliest form,
In presence of Uriel of the myriad charms,
Without malice, without jealousy, without envy,
Without fear, without terror of any one under the sun,
But the Holy Son of God to shield me.
Without malice, without jealousy, without envy,
Without fear, without terror of any one under the sun,
But the Holy Son of God to shield me.

God, kindle Thou in my heart within
A flame of love to my neighbour,
To my foe, to my friend, to my kindred all,
To the brave, to the knave, to the thrall,
O Son of the loveliest Mary,
From the lowliest thing that liveth,
To the Name that is highest of all.
O Son of the loveliest Mary,
From the lowliest thing that liveth,
To the Name that is highest of all.
[489:79:April 13 Carmina Gadelica, Vol. I, page 231]